Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone, but that doesn’t mean that plenty hasn’t been going on. When I first arrived at Pendle Hill, I slept a great deal and ate and went for long walks, and stared at the trees turning colors and let go of much that I had been holding on to. Now there are some very subtle processes starting to happen within me. I prefer great dramatic epiphanies, of course, but I am mindful of the fact that it is really just subtle little shifts of sunlight, warmth, moisture, nutrients, and microorganisms that create the great harvest that we sometimes get from the Woolman Orchard. Also, great big events and movements in my life have often been catastrophic in effect and affect. Subtle is good…
Still, I have to admit that the primary trend feels a lot like entropy, dis-integration, coming apart. Of course, this is merely an ego perception, not reality, but the ego does get quite strident sometimes. I have done Advent consciously and deliberately for the last four years with the Sunday Morning Book Group at Grass Valley Friends Meeting. This is the right time of year for letting go, as trees let go of leaves. It is the darkening time when life is waning. This can feel like death to the ego, but spiritually I know that death always leads to new life.
I have been doing a great deal of reading. Much is going in, and I have a sense of searching through it, looking for key elements that I need. I can’t force it, but I will wake up one of these mornings, and it will be with me. I have committed to the process, and continually remind myself that the product (if any!) will come from that.
I have also done some writing lately, but it seems to be serving the function of making room in my head so that I don’t have to hold these elements, but can let them go and return to a waiting state. None of the things I have written have been elegant or even particularly coherent, and this is difficult for the ego too—I’m supposed to be GOOD at writing!
In fact, one of the things that I have recently had to confront is a pervasive, crippling perfectionism. I met a woman, Colleen, who is a professional organizer. She stayed one night as a guest of Pendle Hill because she lives some distance away and had two days of work in the area. She and I got to talking at the breakfast table. It turns out that she has read this blog! She mentioned being a professional organizer—not labor, but offices and homes. I talked about my challenges around neatness and papers in particular. She thought for a while, and then offered that a certain kind of person is such a perfectionist that they don't want to engage in things that won't come out perfectly. I looked at my life through this lens for several days--work, relationships, living spaces, ministry, hobbies, and even my personal aesthetic. It has been very enlightening, but also has involved some mourning and letting go of anger. So, now I am struggling with the theme: "Perfection is Imperfection: Imperfection is Perfection." The point is to engage with things despite the certainty that perfection will not occur.
There are some forces at work in my own brain that encourage me to do, to make, to accomplish, to act. One is that the Pendle Hill end of term tradition of Festival Week is coming up, where students do presentations of what their work has been about this term. Can I do a presentation of playing the violin, taking a nap, and eating an orange? (Actually, that would probably be accepted with alacrity.) Another contributor to my sense that I need to get something done is that I am the Kenneth Carrol Scholarship recipient, and am supposed to do some sort of Biblical or Quakerly scholarship that is of value. The third is all the folks who have contributed to my being here financially or otherwise. It is good to have accountability, of course, but it is also important to look out for the tricks of the ego. Early Friends always reminded themselves to “stay low” and listen. I think that this is what I am attempting.
During this time of dissolution and non-productivity, I have been exercising regularly in an effort to control my blood pressure without medications. My B.P. is not in the happy range, I am sad to say, but I am stronger, faster, leaner and more flexible thanks to a somewhat haphazard discipline of running, cycling, weight training, and yoga.
I have attended numerous meetings of Quaker organizations, since I’m in the East. I attended the American Friends Service Committee’s board and corporation meetings, Quaker Earthcare Witness’ fall gathering, the Friends General Conference Traveling Ministers Program consultation for emerging ministers, and have agreed to serve on Pendle Hill’s Racial Justice Committee as the resident student representative. I am hoping to visit with the Friends Committee on Legislation this winter as well, since I have been very impressed with their work.
My spiritual reading is the New York Times. I read the front section, ideally for half an hour, but sometimes it is more or less. The idea is to read with cosmic consciousness. Sometimes I laugh, and sometimes I have to stop and pray. Sometimes I put the paper down and go for a walk under big trees in the rain. Sometimes my tears fall on the page, and my heart aches. As time goes on, however, I am learning to see the beauty more and more. I can’t explain it, but it’s there.
I am also working on a project for sustainable travel to Friends General Conference Gathering this summer. The EarthQuaker Road Trip seems like a perfect fit with FGC’s theme of “Courageously Faithful.” The idea is for Friends of all ages to take Amtrak to Philadelphia (bikes go free on the train!) and then to cycle to Johnstown on a Pennsylvania State bike route that includes some Rails to Trails. The trip will involve service work, play, worship, and visiting with Friends Meetings along the way. Eight days and 259 miles is a pretty mild bike tour, so consider cycling a bit this spring to get ready. Hopefully there will be a link on the FGC website soon. Emma Churchman, a fellow student here, and Kristina Keefe-Perry are primary co-conspirators.
My FGC workshop proposal was also accepted. Entitled EarthQuakers Unbound!, it will incorporate my learning from last year’s experience. After a year of intensive scholarship, it will be fun to bring new understanding to this group exploration of the Gospel of the Earth.
I have also started to keep a dream journal. For the last two decades I have been a person who claims not to remember their dreams, or not to dream at all. It turns out that I just wipe my mind clean as soon as I wake up. By instead waking up and lying still in the position I woke up in, I can remember my dreams, then turn on the light and write them down. Individual dreams so far haven’t seemed to yield much, but looking at the nearly two dozen that I have collected now does reveal some very consistent patterns. It’s fascinating, really. I’m now reading a book about it, so I can better interpret. Jeremy Taylor’s book, Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams, in case you are curious.
So, entropy, surrender, letting go and simultaneously continuing to practice my disciplines of exercise, spiritual reading, spiritual writing, worship and prayer are the business of these days.
An embarrassment of riches, surely. The world continues to hurtle towards ecogeddon, and I am preparing myself for something. Should I form a Quaker Worker house? Go to seminary? Give up and just make piles of money and have a good time while the planet is still inhabitable? Hmmmm….
Time to pray.